Linguistic Ideologies, Fallacies of Racism, and the Construction of a Racial “Gaffe”


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The purpose of this activity is to introduce students to sociological and linguistic concepts useful for analyzing media narratives often encountered during the “moral panics” that follow infamous racist utterances. In order to do this, the activity utilizes video of an infamous racist chant that went viral in early 2015, along with several articles and statements that were published online in the ensuing discussion. This activity will assess students’ understanding of linguistic ideologies that underlie common English usage in the United States, as well as the five fallacies underlying the folk-ideology of racism. Part 1 of the activity involves a review and discussion on course readings. Part 2 involves small group work, wherein students complete a worksheet, and teach one another, sharing ideas. Finally, in part 3 of the activity, answers to the worksheet are reviewed via class discussion, and students address the implications of new concepts for personal experiences with racial “light talk,” and the circulation of racist language through media discourse surrounding gaffes.


Resource Type(s):
David Lee Rigby, UNC Chapel Hill Sociology 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Racial and Ethnic Relations 
Class Level:
College 100 
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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This activity can be modified for time or by class size. To shorten the activity, and to accommodate class dynamics, the instructors can choose to skip Part 1 (assuming students have completed the readings) and/or Part 3, choosing to focus on the videos, and completion of the activity sheet. Part...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Define, identify, and differentiate among relevant linguistic ideologies, and five fallacies about racism.
Assessment 1:
Students will demonstrate their initial knowledge and comprehension by completing a take-home review sheet assigned with the readings, and through a review session at the beginning of class, during which students will be asked to explain relevant terms.
Goal 2:
Apply five fallacies about racism, as well as linguistic ideologies that contribute to understanding of racist utterances as gaffes, by identifying their use in media discourse.
Assessment 2:
Students will be assessed on their analysis, and application skills through the completion of the activity sheet
Goal 3:
Challenge the construction of the “gaffe” narrative, by assessing metacultural impacts from comment boards—as described in the assigned readings—and by evaluating personal experience with racial “light talk” and ideologies underlying such talk.
Assessment 3:
The activity will end in a class discussion where students will be asked to identify responses to gaffes that exemplify circulation of racist language, and to apply course perspectives to personal experiences with racial “light talk”

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